Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Holiday Charitable Giving: Tips to Help You Do It Merry and Right

Beyond the obvious tax benefits and general warm feelings that end-of-the-year charitable giving brings to those who participate in it, donating money or goods to organizations whose mission is to serve those who are in need does a necessary good in the broader society. However, not all giving is as straightforward as it may seem, and if it isn’t done well, it can bring out the Scrooge in even the most giving of hearts.

Charitable giving—like most things—contains a sweet spot. For some givers, it’s a concern over tax breaks; for others, it’s a desire to make sure they stretch their dollar as far as it can go so the greatest good is accomplished. Whatever your preoccupation, these tips will help ensure your donations this holiday season are merry, bright, maximized and completely deductible. 


Most people know the majority of charities in the United States are nonprofits with a 501(c)(3) designation, which is the designation that means your donations to them are tax deductible. Beyond that, the details get murky for most people. Here are few other tips to keep you safe from Uncle Sam when you play Saint Nick this season:

  • Donations are deductible during the calendar year they are made in, which means the day you drop the check in the mail or charge a gift to your credit card.
  • Limits on how much you can claim and still receive a tax break only come into play when you reach above 20 percent of your income—but you can still give away as much as you want.
  • If you volunteer, you can’t deduct the hours you work, but you can claim any expenses that you paid to do the volunteering, like gas mileage.
  • The IRS also has a list of recommendations on getting tax breaks from charitable giving, which is great, because they’re the experts.
  • Keep Records

While all charitable organizations should send you receipts for any giving you do, it’s always still a good idea to keep your own records. After all, nobody’s perfect, right? So, if you’re giving money via a text message, you’ll need to keep a copy of the phone bill the gift was allocated to. If you write a check, write “Donation” in the memo line, andfor all your giving, keep a record of the following:

  • The name of the organization
  • The date of the gift
  • The means of giving (i.e. check, credit card, donated goods, etc.)
  • The amount of the gift

Get Your Employer to Match Your Donation

Even if you don’t work for a large company or corporation—but especially if you do—check with your boss or manager to see about a matching grant. Businesses are interested in tax breaks and in assisting their communities. If you can guide them to a charity that does both, you just made your donation—and your employer’s reputation—that much better.
Do a Background Check

Nobody wants to doubt a charity’s intentions, but it can still be a good idea to check with a site like Charity Navigator to make sure the organization you’re giving your money to is not just legitimate, but that it also handles its affairs well. An independent charity evaluator, Charity Navigator (and other sites like it) works to give donors information about almost 7,000 charities, and they gather information specifically related to a charity’s financial health and its accountability and transparency practices. You can find out how much of the money you give will go to the needs the charity is addressing, as well as how much of your gift will go to administrative work and salaries. Site that evaluate nonprofits take a lot of the unknowns and guesswork out of the giving equation, which puts donors at ease. It also helps good charities reap the rewards of being good stewards, while training a watchful eye in the direction of groups that aren’t as efficient or transparent as they could be—which provides good incentive for those groups to try harder.

Because a hefty portion of most charities’ annual operating budget comes in just as the ball drops on Times Square, year-end giving is their lifeblood. Whether you’re an unrepentant do-gooder or a secret softie who wants a tax break, follow these tips and you’ll ensure your gifts go as far as they can—for the organizations and your tax bill.

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About the Author:Arnold Cooper is a blogger who previously worked as an accountant. He suggests considering charities such as Boat Angel for your holiday giving this season.

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